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ATD Blog

Don't Blame the Tools


Thu Feb 14 2013

Don't Blame the Tools

I still remember the first time I used technology to support classroom training. I was in the process of developing a new one-week course for a team of credit specialists (the people who approve or decline those questionable purchases on your credit card). We had only been allocated 3 test accounts with a little more than 10 participants registered. Fortunately, I had heard that one of our technical writers had a license for some screen recording software. After spending about an hour with her to learn how to use the tool, I was able to create my own demo of a “block and transfer” process. From that point on, I’ve been in love with rapid development tools.

Perhaps you would be surprised to know that not everyone shares my feelings…  Many feel that these tools are to blame for all of the awful training that exists in some organizations. While I agree that there is some pretty ridiculous training out there, I argue that this has always been the case – no matter what delivery method.


Although rapid development tools such as Adobe Captivate®, Articulate Storyline®, Lectora®, and others get a bad reputation – much like PowerPoint – they really are pretty incredible. Someone with basic technical skills can integrate demos, podcasts, video, and other e-learning formats into training programs. These types of tools give us the ability to create in ways that we may not have otherwise been able.

So, why do so many workplace learning professionals develop less-than-great training? Here are 5 reasons why e-learning sometimes misses the mark – and it’s not because of the tool:

  1. Lost sight of the goal. What is the specific need? Don’t use e-learning for the sake of having it. Don’t use it because you think it looks pretty. Don’t dump in all of your content. Put your training objective into words. What is the ideal result of your course? Write it down. Then, determine what you will need to help you achieve that goal. Action mapping (Cathy Moore) is a fantastic way to do this!

  2. Didn’t keep it simple. Have you ever completed e-learning and thought, “Wow. You could have just sent me an email.” Again, take a look at your goal and design/develop something that is the easiest way to achieve that goal. It may be that a simple job aid will suffice. Most e-learning is trying to be far more than it ever needed to be… and it is frustrating to the learner.

  3. Cheesy Templates. Do you really need to force it into a template? Focus more on consistent functionality and relevance. One of the worst e-learning traps is pushing content into an existing mold – especially when you know it is bad for the learner.

  4. Unrealistic expectations. Don’t depend on a tool to give you a special super power where you can bypass sound instructional design… and don’t allow your organization to expect that from you either.

  5. Neglected to evaluate and update. A project shouldn’t end just because your course is out on the LMS. Take the time to periodically evaluate what you’ve done and make adjustments as needed. If you are getting feedback that a course is useless, listen! Odds are that if you don’t evaluate your e-learning, you will be at risk for creating bad courses time and again.

    If I had only one wish for instructional designers, developers, trainers, or any combination thereof, it would be that we don’t lose sight of what we really need to accomplish – we are there to help people learn. We have a fantastic opportunity to leverage technology to help us “show our work.” Why not get back to the basics? Take advantage of rapid development tools to support knowledge-sharing in your organization!

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